An Imaginary God

While on-line the other day, I saw a meme that I thought was interesting, thought provoking, and worthy of comment.

The picture was of an old American flag, and written across it was part of an early version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the years the pledge, like our Constitution, has been revised to one degree or another.

The caption below the picture read: “I want to challenge everyone to repost (sic) our country’s flag. With the Pledge of Allegiance as it was written.”

Conspicuously absent from this version of the Pledge of Allegiance was any mention of God. (“God” was added during the Eisenhower administration)

Someone added a comment to the post: “The original pledge made no reference to any imaginary being.” (Emphasis mine)

It’s clear that the person positing this particular viewpoint was philosophically apposed to the idea of the existence of God.  Their quick dismissal of  the existence of God belayed their lack of understanding and instead yielded only a personal opinion, which according to William Bullard “is the lowest form of human knowledge; as it requires no accountability, no understanding.”(1)

Sadly we live in a time where opinions often remain unchallenged and are instead  “caught and brought” by the average person without a second thought. Social networks and our society would rather shout down others rather than discuss differing perspectives maturely and intelligently.

It would appear that those whose primary tools are shaming and shouting  are also wholly lacking in the requisite skills of critical thinking. We should not then be surprised to see that God has been reduced to an “imaginary” being without so much as one thought as to why this might be so.

Still it is disturbing, because an opinion left unchallenged soon becomes accepted as reality, and our beliefs about reality, however erroneous they might be, ultimately drive our behaviors. In this instance the consequences are huge and eternal in nature.

Perhaps we might take a step back and engage our brains and do some critical thinking on this matter of an imaginary God.

Let’s look at the view that God is “imaginary.” We might propose a hypothesis to test. Perhaps our simple hypothesis is the statement: “God does not exist.”

To test our hypothesis we should start by defining several key words for purposes of clarity.

1. Imaginary: “having no real existence but existing in imagination”(2)

2. God: “The Supreme Being; Jehovah; the eternal and infinite spirit, the creator, and the sovereign of the universe.” (3)

3. Natural Selection: That process initially described by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of The Species” in which organisms evolve by passing on beneficial mutations to their off-spring. Today we describe this as “Natural Selection” or “Naturalism.”

There are many evidences and proofs that have been written over the years that demonstrate reasonably that God is very real and does exist. Whole volumes of philosophical and scientific writings are available that point to the existence of God. So numerous are these that I could not possibly hope to cover them in this space, nor do I desire too. Rather I want you to explore and settle that question for yourself.

The balance of this essay will only tackle a couple of examples in a very brief summary form. I hope that these two basic topics will at a minimum cause you to think and possibly explore this topic in depth on your own.

In the end I fully recognize that it is not mine to change your mind, that I leave to God himself to do. Having said that, it is our responsibility to be certain of what it is we believe, as the stakes are high and the consequences for failing to do so are very serious.

Most of us have probably looked up into the night sky at one time or another and pondered the vastness and beauty of the heavens that surround us. The expanse before us is more than we are able to comprehend and goes on as far as we can see. It’s a humbling experience when one thinks about it.

Our universe has been around a long time, and its a dynamic place. It’s neither eternal nor existing in a static state.

It has a beginning.

This statement sounds like such a simple thought; but it’s a profound thought when one stops and seriously considers its implications.

Interestingly the idea of a beginning of time for our universe was not always so. Until relatively recently, scientists believed our universe to be in a steady state and that it has always existed. Scientists surmised that it had no beginning or end, it just is. In recent years the steady state view was challenged by new scientific evidence that points us to a different model of the universe, an expanding universe that came in to existence suddenly at a specific point in time.

Despite today’s evidence for a dynamic expanding universe, some scientists like Fred Hoyle, a well known English Astronomer, steadfastly rejected the notion that our universe came into existence suddenly and is expanding in all directions.

This sudden appearance of our universe has became known colloquially as the “Big Bang Theory.”  Hoyle worked diligently to support his “Steady State Theory to avoid the conclusion of a Creator.  Years later, Hoyle would ultimately conclude that given ‘the incredible complexity of even the simplest forms of life necessitate a Creator.’ Having calculated that the chances for first life emerging without intelligent intervention at 1 in 1040,000, Hoyle acknowledges a Creator of life.”(4)

The Big Bang Theory, held by most scientists today, offers the best evidence for a universe that has a beginning point in time and is expanding outwards in all directions from a central source or origin.

To date no viable scientific alternatives have been proffered  that offer a better explanatory statement about the start of our universe than the Big Bang Theory.

Even Robert Jastrow, both an agnostic and an astronomer,  concluded in his book “God and the Astronomers,” that “three lines of evidence—the motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars—pointed to one conclusion: all indicated that the Universe had a beginning” (5)

But if the universe had a beginning, and the evidence is overwhelming in this regard, then one would have to explain the origin of matter itself. At some point before the advent of our universe there was no matter or energy. Just nothingness.

Physicists and astronomers alike have concluded that matter cannot simply come into existence from nothing. Yet for our universe to have a beginning necessitates exactly that event. Thus the effect of matter being created must ultimately be rooted in a cause. Given no known scientific evidence to assert the creation of matter from nothing via any known natural cause mechanism, one can reasonably conclude that the creation of matter from nothing likely falls into the purview of the supernatural.

British astronomer Stephen Hawking summed it up well: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.”(6)  Jastrow said that “there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact”(6) The only known source of supernatural power that has the express ability to create matter from nothing is God.

The universe is a tough topic to wrap our minds around when evaluating evidence for the existence of a Creator. Alternatively we could also look closer to home for additional evidences that God in not simply a product of an over active imagination. Examining biological life itself strongly suggests an intentional, powerful, and intelligent element in the origins of life.

Natural Selection, a theory popularized by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of the Species,” suggested that life came about and exists today as a result of a series of gradual unguided processes that depends upon the transmission of advantageous random mutations from generation to the next.

Darwinian Natural Selection Theory has failed to adequately explain the complexity of life as we know it today.  In 1859 Darwin had no idea about the inner workings of a cell, DNA, molecular biology etc.

There are many complexities about life that scientists are only just now starting to grapple with, particularly with respect to Natural Selection. In his book “Darwin’s Black Box,” Biochemist Michael Behe observed that certain cell structures have many interdependent components that are reliant upon one another so that a cell might function and survive. Should any one of these components fail to exist or operate properly, the entire organism would cease to function or would never have come into being in the first place.

He described this observation as “irreducibly complex” and defined this state as a “single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”(8)

He observed that such systems would have to have all their components produced simultaneously in order for the organism to survive and carry any beneficial trait into subsequent generations. His observation of the existence of such systems in life are in direct conflict with the well versed theory of Natural Selection, which  depends upon individual changes happening in a series of successive and gradual generation to generation modifications over time.

To illustrate irreducible complexity in a simple way; think of an old fashioned  mousetrap as a simple system that is irreducibly complex. A basic mousetrap has a spring, the metal mouse whacker that actually dispatches the mouse, a small bar to hold the metal whacker, a trigger, a staple to hold the metal bar in place, and of course a piece of square wood that would be sized to fit the above mentioned components.

In this example, if any one of the components did not exist or failed to function properly, the mousetrap could not “survive,” if we define survival as a functioning mousetrap.

Individually these parts have no capacity to carry out the function of trapping mice. In fact there is no “advantage” of  survival to the mousetrap organism in having one or two of these individual parts. It’s only when they come together simultaneously that the trap will function properly and survive.

Behe points to several specific biological examples of this type of irreducible complexity that defy a naturalistic explanation in living organisms. There are many, but a few he mentions include vision, the blood clotting cascade, antibodies, bacterial flagellum, cilium, and many other complex biochemical processes that are too numerous to elucidate here.

The massive advancement of science and knowledge since Darwin’s publication in 1859 have demonstrated many areas of biology that cannot be adequately explained by the simple model of  natural selection alone.

With all of this in mind, it’s perplexing to think that one could dismiss out of hand the idea of a Creator. From a cosmological view we are dealing with a power so fantastic that it could create matter from nothing, and in a moment in time our entire universe was brought into existence. The magnitude and enormity of  that moment cannot possibly be grasped. Not only did our universe come into existence, it did so in a way that defies all known laws of physics.

From a biological view, how can the simplicity of natural selection, a theory based upon the scientific knowledge of 1859, explain the design and complexity of biological life as we know it to be today? How do we explain design in living systems? After all, the only known  source for design is intelligence. Design does not originate from any other known cause. The complexity of life could not happen in an unguided, random chance process as proposed by those that believe in a naturalistic view of life.

There are of course many other evidences for the existence of God and I would encourage you to explore these in detail.

These include but are not limited to:

1. The Anthropic Principle
2. Information Theory and DNA
3. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
4. The Thomist Cosmological Argument
5. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
6. The Moral Argument

In the end each of us must weigh the data and decide for ourselves. The stakes are high, in fact they are eternally high. This is not a simple philosophical and intellectual debate for which there are no consequences. Don’t allow peer pressure, social media, or political correctness to stand in the way of applying the raw intellect that each of you poses to resolve this for yourselves.

In the end all roads lead to a choice, and each of  you will make a choice and live with the eternal consequences, either positive or negative. The fork in the road will be in the person of Jesus Christ. The choice is either to accept Him or to reject Him; its that simple.

For each of us our decision will be a willful and intentional one.  God will judge each of us solely on the question of his Son when we stand before him one day. Our ability to enter Heaven or to be condemned to eternal separation from God, will hinge on the entirety of God’s grace and your personal decision regarding Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

=================Notes===============================
1. https://themindsjournal.com/tag/bill-bullard/ , viewed Feb 22, 2017.

2. Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

3. American Dictionary of the English Language, Noel Webster, Foundation for American Christian Education; Facsimile of 1st edition (June 1, 1967)

4. Frederick Hoyle. The Intelligent Universe. London: Michael Joseph, 1983.

5. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.111

6. S. Hawking. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

7. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.15, 18

8. Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2011), 306.

 

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

 

 

Of Streetlights And Clouds

I found that as I moved towards adulthood that I started to trade my wonderment for God’s creation for the knowledge that I gained about the world God has created around us.

The sensation of this process was akin to coming to a specific knowledge of how a certain magic trick was performed. Suddenly the wonderment is gone. I feel like I need to work harder in life to retain my sense of wonderment, curiosity, and amazement of God’s creation around us. It speaks volumes of who He is.

Kids are the best at trying to explain God’s world around us. Often their innocent explanations are something that we as parents smile at in our hearts as we ponder their view of the world. My son shared with us when he was six years old that he had concluded that the evening fog that would move into our area each night, and then retreat in the morning, was generated nightly from the top of streetlight poles as everyone slept. Even as an adult he still doesn’t recall how he came to this insightful conclusion. But it was funny nonetheless.

At times I take great personal joy in viewing the world around me with such a simplistic perspective. The other night I stepped outside to an unusually clear night. I could see the stars scattered about, dotting the night sky; each pinpoint of light shining it’s way toward our humble planet. The scene reminded me of a passage from the Psalms:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.”  (Psalm 19:1-4)

The perfect placement and precise operation of all the planetary bodies that taken together represent the creative genius of our Heavenly Father. Indeed I was humbled as I stood there and observed the night sky. It is the most beautiful masterpiece of creation and it shows up every night. I thought to myself how much more I need to stop at times and really pause to appreciate the amazing world that God has created for us.

I hope that after you read this that you might take a moment tonight, step outside and look up into the night sky and enjoy the greatest light show ever made. If you miss out tonight, I guarantee that there will be another show tomorrow.

The Essence of Prayer

“Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” -Philippians 4:6

 “In the stirring chapter in which Sir Ernest Shackleton tells of the loss of his ship among the ice-floes, he describes an incident that must have set all his readers thinking. In the grip of the ice, the Endurance had been smashed to splinters; and the entire party was out on a frozen sea at the mercy of the pitiless elements. Shackleton came to the conclusion that their best chance of eventually sighting land lay in marching to the opposite extremity of the floe; at any rate, it would give them something to do, and there is always solace in activity. He thereupon ordered his men to reduce their personal baggage to two pounds weight each. For the next few hours every man was busy in sorting out his belongings—the treasures that he had saved from the ship. It was a heart-breaking business. Men stole gloomily and silently away and dug little graves in the snow, to which they committed books, letters, and various knickknacks of sentimental value. And, when the final decisions had to be made, they threw away their little hordes of golden sovereigns and kept the photographs of their sweethearts and wives!” (F.W. Boreham, 2010)

Getting down to the basics in anything can be difficult. Certainly for Shackelton’s expedition team, this was so. In the end, they took with them that which represented the essence of their possessions; photographs of their loved ones. Nothing else was deemed more valuable.

I’ve been on a journey myself, a journey that required me to set aside the distractions of my life and to capture and focus on the essence of prayer.

Over the past several months, I have come to recognize that God’s motivation for the idea behind prayer was driven by His love for His creation. God’s love is an enduring love that knows no boundaries. His love pursues us; it’s a love that transcends all time and space.

 “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. “ (Psalm 139:16)

Prayer became God’s designated means to allow us to respond to His overtures of love. It is through prayer that I am able to communicate and respond to my Creator, to the one who loves me with all of His being. (Psalm 107:15, Psalm 118:1)

Prayer is a gift from God that rises above the circumstances of life. A pastor friend once reminded me that life is hard. At times we seem to face a never ending set of circumstances that makes life hard. Perhaps the circumstances we’re facing are life threatening, or a chronic medical condition that painfully reminds us of its presence each and every day. For others it might be facing economic or relational challenges, or the loss, or imminent loss of a loved one. Whatever our circumstances, the scriptures assure us that we are to engage in prayer, in good times and in bad. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, 1 Timothy 5:5, Daniel 6:10)

The Apostle Paul reminds us that in every situation, no matter how tough it might be, we are to approach God with a heart of thanksgiving. In the face of our circumstances this can be a very tall order. Such a heart is one of continuous gratitude for God’s grace, provision, and ever present love for us. In time, I have learned that the only way to possess such a heart is from the perspective of eternity. What we know is that God’s love for us endures forever. Meaning, that for those who trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, His love for us will continue from the present into Heaven for eternity, long after our earthly bodies have turned to dust. Once in Heaven, our finite and comparatively brief earthly life, with all of its troubles and difficulties, will be but a distant thought, a moment in time. It will pale in comparison to the eternal life we are going to experience in Heaven. (Ephesians 5:20, Matthew 1516, Psalm 9:1, Romans 7:25)

Lastly, prayer, at its most basic level is one of confidence in our God. Confidence is expressed in our belief and faith in God for the outcome of our prayers expressed to Him. I’ve learned that at times, God may elect to answer our prayers in an unexpected manner. When He does, it may not feel like the answer we desired or planned for. We should not falter on this point, as I’m convinced that His response is working within a framework that must consider His overall plan for our lives and the lives of others. In this context, our challenge in this earthly life is to trust in His answers, even when we don’t fully comprehend or agree with them in the moment.

It’s possible that the full disclosure of God’s responses to our prayers, and the impact of His responses, may not be fully realized until we are in Heaven. It’s there that we will see the full breadth of his wisdom. For now, we will be blessed in this life for taking the step of trusting fully in God’s wise responses. (Matthew 20:29)

I’ve learned in recent times, the importance in trusting God for the outcomes of my prayers, knowing that His answers to my prayers will ultimately fit into His grander and total plan for my life. (1 John 5:14-15, James 1:6, Matthew 21:22)

The essence of prayer then, is to understand that God loves us with an enduring love, and that He desires communion with us; prayer becomes the vehicle by which this is accomplished. Prayer must be something that is elevated above life circumstances, and when we do pray, we must do so with a heart of thanksgiving. And finally, we need to pray with confidence, trusting in God’s responses, even if we don’t fully grasp the significance of His answer in the moment.

Copyright 2015 FullLifeWord.com

Do You See Anything?

“‘…Do you see anything?’ …Then his eyes were opened…he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:23-25)

In my dentist’s office there used to be this really large picture that hung on the wall in her waiting room. It had the appearance of some sort of modern abstract art. It never did anything for me. I had glanced at it on numerous occasions but never really paid it much mind.

That changed one day.

On that particular occasion, a little girl accompanied by her mom, came in to the dentist office and took the seats nearest me. I overheard the child saying to her mom, as she gazed at the picture with a smile; “Do you see anything?” The mom looked up briefly from her smartphone, smiled, and then returned to whatever it was she was looking at. The little girl continued to gaze at the picture until it was her turn to see the dentist.

After they left the room, I wondered what it was that was so interesting about this picture that had engaged a child’s attention for so long. The picture itself, though large, in my opinion was nothing to really look at…in fact, it was rather plain looking. I was thinking this while I was still looking at the simple colors and the seemingly random patterns that made up the picture, when suddenly an entire scene of various forest animals materialized! What to the uneducated eye appeared as simple abstract art, was actually, a carefully crafted picture that required the viewer to spend time gazing at it before the true objects became evident to the viewer.

Now, whenever I happen to see that picture, I can’t help but really “see” the images that the creator intended for me to discover. The images no longer remained hidden from view.

Some years ago, while serving at a start-up church, I found myself in the position of having to teach children; kindergarten through six grade. It was never my intention to teach kids, I was much more comfortable with teaching adults. But there was no one else, and so I took the role with the idea that this was only a temporary assignment. I had never taught kids before, and I judged my first few weeks as a disaster.

To complicate matters, we served a community in which many families where skating on the edge of homelessness. Many single moms and dads from a low income housing project nearby would visit our church on Sundays. Some of these families were transitory, they would come a few Sundays and I’d never see them again. For those families in particular, I was not able to see how anything that I was doing with them in class would ever matter or make a difference in their little lives.

Over time my teaching skills improved as I learned that kids learn differently than adults. The kids and I were having much more fun, as evidenced by a lot of laughter and even some random learning happening. Yet I still wondered…did my miniscule contribution really make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Shouldn’t I be doing something bigger and more important? I pondered those questions, and concluded that what I was doing really didn’t make a difference, there was simply too much hurt and impossible circumstances with many of these kids. Nothing I was doing really mattered.

A few weeks after coming to that conclusion, a young mom and her little kindergarten aged son came and visited our church.

Her son was a joy, a great little guy, complete with out of control blond hair and sky blue eyes. In class he was very attentive, he followed every move I made and made every effort to politely get my attention during the entire class time. I couldn’t help but spend some extra time with him. As I interacted with him, I saw that his little blue eyes gave away something else; a sense of deep hurt and loss. I devoted as much time with him as I could. Fortunately we had several other adult helpers that day, so I had the luxury of extra time. Together we played games, drew pictures, and he demonstrated his extraordinary play-dough skills for me.

It was later that I had learned from his mom, that her husband had recently abandoned their family, and that her son had been devastated in not understanding why “daddy left.”

When class was over, and I was signing him out to his mom, he ran over to her with crafts in hand and greeted her with a hug, and then turned quickly to face me as if to say something. I knelt down to be at his level, and without warning, he fell into my arms, putting his little chubby arms around my neck. He gave me a great big hug! He held me tight. I was so surprised that at first I didn’t know how to respond. That kind of thing never happened before! Certainly never in any of my adult classes! I put down wherever it was I had in my hands and gently hugged him back.

In that instant, my heart was broken, but my vision was made clear.

What we do for our Lord does matter! It matters because He places us in the right places at the right times for His perfect purposes. We may not see the final outcomes, but where possible, we are to express His love in every task we are given, no matter how much or little we think it might matter.

All I know is that it mattered to a little boy that morning, a young life that had experienced deep hurt without understanding the adult complexities of why. I hope and pray that perhaps on that day, he saw in me a small reflection of Jesus.

Overcoming the Pack

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves succeed in part because they hunt in numbers. They surround, overwhelm, and overpower their prey. It’s one thing to deal with a lone wolf, but altogether a different matter when it comes to dealing with an entire pack of wolves.

Jesus recognized that in many ways, as his disciples went out to share the wonderful message of the Gospel, they too would be venturing out as sheep among wolves. The Gospel message is all about bringing humanity into a personal relationship with God, but it was being presented to a world of people longing for hope, but often attempting to secure it on their own without the power God.

The disciples were few and the culture of their day hosted many different philosophies, religious, and even governments that not only rejected the message of the gospel, but actively sought to harm the messengers, the disciples themselves. Clearly the disciples would be more than outnumbered. It was within this context that Jesus shared with them that what they were about to undertake, would be akin to sending defenseless sheep into the face of a pack of wolves. It would take divine wisdom, trust, and reliance upon God, for the disciples to navigate in such a hostile environment.

Some years ago, I saw a nature show that tracked the exploits of a wildlife photographer and the challenges he had in obtaining video and pictures of wildlife in their natural habitats.

It had been a long week in the woods for the photographer, and he had yet to catch any decent video or pictures. At one point, on his last day out in the woods, he climbed high upon a rocky outcropping, and found himself overlooking a large valley that led to a huge lake at one end. Much of the valley floor was covered in an immense green meadow ringed by tall aspens, whose leaves shimmered with the gentle movement of the afternoon breeze.

It was from this position that he unexpectedly heard the sound of brush being crushed down, and the din of many feet, moving quickly and with purpose.

That’s when he saw the lone deer emerge from the woods, panting heavily. The deer paused for a moment, and then ran across the open meadow for all he was worth.

Moments later, with camera running, the photographer captured the remarkable images of a pack of wolves breaking out of the tree line into the meadow in pursuit of their prey. The exhausted deer continued to run across the meadow, but the wolves paced themselves; the deer was tiring. They sensed the end was near.

The wolves had hunted together many times, and at this point in the hunt, they knew the key was to entrap the deer, to completely overwhelm him. The wolves fell into a half-moon formation to prevent the deer from outflanking them, to drive the animal straight ahead along the shore of the lake. They had been relentless in their pursuit. No amount of effort on the part of the deer seemed to have allowed him to elude these seemingly tireless hunters.

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In another part of the world, a different drama was unfolding. United States Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, had just completed the final pre-flight check of his F16 fighter jet. Moments later, he took off from the Aviano Airbase in Italy, serving as wing-man for his friend Captain Bob Wright.

The pair were on a mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were part of a broader NATO operation to prevent the warring factions from using their military aircraft against one another.

Unbeknownst to either pilot, one of the factions, the Serbs, had secretly moved a surface-to-air missile launcher into position to attack NATO fighter jets. The Serbs had observed that the fighters followed a predictable route and schedule; this routine had made the fighter jets vulnerable to attack.

Low cloud cover prevailed that day, as the fighters flew their route at 26,000 feet. The largely routine patrol was abruptly interrupted, when O’Grady’s on-board warning system told him they had been fired upon by surface to air missiles, but due to deep cloud cover below the aircraft, the pilots were unable to visually see the missiles in time to completely avoid them.

The first missile blew up harmlessly between both aircraft, missing their intended targets. However, the second missile hit O’Grady’s fighter with such force, that it blew his aircraft into two pieces. Both parts of the flaming aircraft plummeted towards the earth on a five-mile decent to the surface below. As Captain Wright looked helplessly on; the flaming aircraft parts were quickly swallowed into the clouds and disappeared from sight; he never saw a parachute deploy from O’Grady’s aircraft.

Within hours of the crash, William O’Grady, Scott’s dad, was contacted by the military. They shared the sad news that his son had been shot down, and that they had no indication that he had escaped from his burning aircraft.

Six days later, William O’Grady received a phone call from the military, instructing him that he was to receive an official message that could only be delivered in person. He feared the worst, he had known that the type of career Scott had chosen was inherently dangerous, he braced himself for the news he anticipated he was going to receive.

A short while later, a government car arrived at his home, and three blue uniforms emerged; one of the officers wore a chaplain’s cross on his collar.

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Our world is filled with risks and dangers. Jesus recognized this when he sent the twelve disciples on their mission to share the Gospel to a world that needed Christ desperately.

While the dangers we face in our lives may not be as literal as wolves or missiles, they can still do great and lasting harm.

One of the trends observed of our country, has been a societal movement towards becoming increasingly cynical.

Paul Miller, author of “A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World,” suggested that in recent times, our country has moved from viewing life from an optimistic perspective, to a more cynical point of view.


“Cynics imagine they are disinterested observers on a quest for authenticity. They assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything. C. S. Lewis pointed out that if you see through everything, you eventually see nothing.” (Miller, p.91)

He shared that bitterness is the “stepchild of cynicism. “

It’s no surprise that society has gravitated towards this viewpoint of life. Daily we are faced with a constant deluge of negative news, news that has the potential to dampen our spirit and move us towards the slope of cynicism. It’s an easy step to take, but a dangerous place to live.

If the pressures aren’t bad enough for the average person, there are those whose daily jobs expose them on a regular basis, to the worst that our lost society has to offer.

This constant exposure can harden even the strongest of hearts and make us cynical and bitter. These traits, which if left unchecked, will seep into every relationship we are engaged in. If you’re a police officer, medical emergency worker, firefighter, solider, or have some other job that constantly and deeply exposes you to the harshest circumstances that this world can dish out, then you are especially at risk for falling into the spiral of cynicism and bitterness.

Cynicism, it’s a predator, a wolf that will never be satisfied, it has an appetite that’s endless. Our world can and will feed it relentlessly. It has the potential to bring incredible harm to those relationships that we are called to guard and cherish the most. Our husbands, wives, children, our Lord Jesus Christ, these are the critical relationships that we must protect.

Like the deer, endlessly pursued by the pack of wolves, the solution to living in this world exists outside of us. The only hope we have is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There are times when we feel helpless and hopeless that God will knock on the door of our hearts. But he will not enter unless you open the door and invite Him in. The answers can be right in front of us, but in the moment, we might not choose to acknowledge God’s desire to be the way out. Perhaps at times we allow our pride to get in the way of the still and quiet voice of our Lord as he calls out to us, and we miss His invitation.

Jesus spoke of the snake as being shrewd. In this case, shrewd referred to the wisdom he called the disciples to exercise. Wisdom to help them anticipate and manage the dangers they were certain to face in this life.

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As I continued to watch the video of the deer being pursued by the pack of determined wolves, I begin to perceived that the deer recognized his situation for what it was.

The wolves were trying to run him to the edge of a lake and trap him. But as they closed in for the final chapter, the wearied deer suddenly stopped running, as if to take one last stand before succumbing to his hunters.

My heart stopped, I know wolves have to eat, but I really didn’t want to watch what was about to unfold. I started to reach for the channel changer, but before I could, I saw the deer glance at the lake, and then crouch for a moment before springing a jump that landed him far from the shoreline into the water. He started to swim with a renewed level of determination, wisely, not parallel along the shore of the lake, where he might tire and die, rather straight across the lake towards the other side, a distance of nearly a mile or so.

The wolves were completely caught off guard by this unexpected tactic, and not being that confident, or willing swimmers themselves, they only ventured a short distance into the water in pursuit of the deer before turning back. They were left to pace back and forth along the shore as they watched the deer swim away.

In the end, the deer made it across to the other shore, climbed out of the lake, shook off the water from its brown coat, took one look back towards the opposite shore, where the wolves remained, and bounded into the woods to safety.

********

The three blue uniforms that emerged from the car, including the chaplain, came not to deliver news of Scott O’Grady’s demise, rather to deliver amazing news to William O’Grady, of his son’s incredible story of survival, and ultimate rescue.

Evidently, Captain O’Grady, after plummeting into the clouds, had been able to eject from the flaming wreckage of his F16 fighter jet. He suffered minor burns in the process, but was able to parachute into hostile territory successfully.

As he floated down from the sky, he could see a convoy of trucks carrying troop’s, intent on his capture, driving on the roads below him. He landed near some woods several hundred yards from the road where the trucks had stopped, and deposited their complement of troops.

As he broke free from his chute harness, he could hear the many soldiers moving in his direction. They knew where he had landed. He was emotionally exhausted, and physically spent. He prayed. He ran a short distance into the brush and realized he would never be able to outrun the hunters. He quickly dodged into some brush, curled up into a ball with his face down, using his camouflaged gloves; he covered his ears and the back of his neck. He froze and silently prayed.

The searchers came within feet of him, but miraculously, during the next several hours never saw him. They had even brought in search helicopters. He remained in his frozen state until nightfall. Then with great caution, he started a slow nightly journey towards a distant hill that offered a possibility for a rescue by helicopter.

For the next six days, he endured a relentless search by enemy soldiers. During this time he maintained radio silence to avoid capture. He had been trained to delay using his emergency radio right away, as historically, pilots that failed to do so, were often captured, as their radio signals often gave their position away to the enemy searchers.

During the six days on the run there were many close calls, but in the end, he was able to communicate with his rescuers using a quick radio transmission. His friends and colleagues were absolutely shocked to hear his quiet voice over the radio after having heard nothing for days. Immediately, after learning of his survival, a  daring rescue operation was set in motion.

The entire operation involved two contingents of U.S. Marines, Navy ships, and some forty support aircraft. The rescue itself was a harrowing experience for everyone involved. Shortly after landing and pulling O’Grady in, the massive Sea Stallion rescue helicopters lifted off and immediately came under intense fire from both small arms and shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles. The helicopter pilots executed several trained evasion maneuvers to avoid the missiles, while door gunners returned fire to the ground. After a forty-five minute flight they touched down on a U.S. Navy Ship. O’Grady was safe.

The night William O’Grady was notified of his son’s dramatic rescue, he was able to see Scott on TV, looking weary, but healthy. It was a night in which he gave a very special thanks to God.

As for Captain Scott O’Grady, he continued to serve his country, and returned to flying F16’s until he left the service, where upon he enrolled and completed a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He concluded that his survival and ability to avoid capture had been fully in God’s hands. It was God who gave him the optimism and hope to prevail in a very hopeless and difficult situation.

********

You and I face the wolves of cynicism, pride, and hopelessness every day. We can’t go it alone against such a pack. We must look outside of ourselves for our strength, wisdom, and the ability to remain optimistic. Jesus is a bright light in an already dark and evil world. It is incumbent upon us to live our lives in like manner. The One we must look to for strength is Jesus Christ. It is only from Him that we may derive our power to live our lives to the full each day, and into the dawn of eternity.

Speaking for myself, I could not imagine awaking to a day without Jesus at my side. When the Lord and I are in sync, when our relationship is healthy, then optimism and hope abound, even if there are days when I feel like I’m surrounded by a pack of wolves and can’t seem to see a way out.

Like the deer, when all seems lost, take heart, God presents a way for us. And like Captain O’Grady, we have to make a choice every day to trust Him for the moment, a hard thing if I’ve allowed cynicism to enter my life and dampen my love for Christ and my optimism for life.

But if we do choose to trust Him, then the peace of Christ will have no boundaries, as we allow His wisdom to be our guide and source of daily renewal.

Copyright FullLifeWord 2015

Differing Measures

One of the largest and most powerful warships of its day, and the pride of Gustav II Adolf, the King of Sweden, was launched on August 10, 1628. The “Vasa, named after the ruling Vasa Dynasty, boasted an array of 64 bronze cannons, was crewed by 150 sailors and capable of carrying some 300 soldiers. She was in excess of 200 feet in length with a displacement of over 1,400 tons. With over 13,000 square feet of sail, this 17th century vessel was a force to be reckoned with.

An excited public watched and celebrated along the shores of Strömmen, as the great ship prepared to depart on its maiden voyage. On that particular Sunday morning, the Vasa hosted over a hundred crew members, along with family and guests, which were allowed to join the ship for the first leg of its passage through the Archipelago.

Incredibly, after having been under construction for over two years, the maiden voyage lasted only twenty minutes. The Vasa traveled less than one mile before a gust of wind unexpectedly caused the ship to heel over to its port side. The resulting massive flooding, as water rushed into the open lower gun ports, sank the ship within minutes, taking with it the lives of thirty people.

Subsequent inquests spread the blame for the untimely sinking amid a variety of people and causes, but no one cause or person was identified as the primary reason for the ship’s demise; the inquest concluded that the ship was “inherently unstable.” The actual mechanical reasons that caused the instability of the Vasa would remain entombed with the ship for nearly four hundred years.

In 1961, the remains of the incredibly well preserved Vasa were located and raised, and over a period of several years the ship was restored and ultimately placed in a Swedish museum for others to view and study. Archeologists studying the Vasa identified several factors that might have contributed to the ship’s sinking; including a lack of adequate ballast and a top heavy design. But these factors by themselves did not possess sufficient explanatory power to fully explain Vasa’s hasty demise.

In June of 2012, a major four year study was completed in the hopes of identifying the source of her instability. The study was headed by Vasa Museum’s director of research Fred Hocker. The project set out to document and measure all the timbers used in the construction of the Vasa. Doing so required the team to map some 80,000 separate points on the ship, using advanced digital 3D technology.

To their surprise, after analyzing the data, the project team learned that the ship was actually built in an asymmetric shape.

The ship was built lopsided.

In this case, there were more ship building materials on the port side of the ship, than on the starboard side. If this had been unknown at the time of construction, then the ship would indeed have been highly unstable, and likely to roll to the left side when faced with a strong wind or rough ocean.

But how did such an error, which resulted in this unstable shape, insert itself into the final construction work at the shipyard?

As part of their examination of the Vasa, Hocker and his team had earlier discovered within the ship, four rulers left behind by the original shipbuilders. The significance of this piece of historical evidence had not been fully understood at the time of its discovery. But that would change.

Upon careful examination, it turned out that these rulers were based on two different measurement standards.

The team also determined from historical records that the carpenters who built the Vasa, originated from both Holland and Sweden.

Two of the rulers were in Swedish feet and the others were in Amsterdam feet, which were slightly different in lengths. As the ship was being built, it was speculated that each carpenter used their own measuring standard to cut the timbers used for the ship.

Because no single objective measuring standard was used, the resulting vessel that was built came out lopsided and therefore highly unstable. This final part of the puzzle provided the last explanatory piece of data to close out the mystery behind the mighty Vasa’s demise.

Scientists concluded that the lopsided ship tended to naturally lean to its port side, because it was built based upon two different definitions of how long a “foot” was, and when the gust of wind arose on that fateful day, the ship simply keeled over to its naturally heavy side. Because the ship was not balanced properly, and was considered top heavy, when the water flooded in, it was not able to recover and return to an upright position. Instead it remained on its side and immediately sank.

Thankfully, in today’s world, we generally have agreement on objective standards to determine how long a foot is, how much volume a gallon actually contains, or how hot or cold something might be. Having objective standards allows us to operate in a predictable and safe manner.

But are such objective standards limited only to physical attributes in our lives? What about behavioral standards of conduct that govern how we relate to God and one another? Are there objective standards available for us to live our lives by? If so, what are the consequences of attempting to live outside of God’s ideal for us?

Jesus was once asked by a religious official, with respect to the laws and commandments they lived by, which one was the most important? Jesus responded by citing not one, but two commandments; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30–31)

In his response Jesus looked past the legalistic and religious intent of this official, and responded by summarizing all of the commandments into two simple objective relationship truths.

In essence, these principles state that the most important relationship we could ever have is the one we have with God. We need to give our all to God, our heart, Soul, and Mind. If that relationship is healthy, we will have the foundation to carry out the second great relationship truth, and that would be to love those around us and to love ourselves. Choosing to adopt God’s objective truths about relationships permits us to live our lives fully, as Jesus intended us to do. (John 10:10)

Of course, when we as a people choose to reject God’s truth claims, and substitute our own personal truths, our relationships in this life inevitably become unstable. In the end, by choosing to use a multitude of differing “measurement rulers” to live by, we are left with no objective standard to assess what is healthy in our relationships, no basis in which to grapple with real world issues. Instead we are armed only with a shifting social framework, dictated by the winds of an ever changing public opinion. Frequently God’s “Truth” with a capital “T” becomes lost in the myriad of individual truths, with a lowercase “t.”

No one has to be a sociological expert to recognize that we live in an incredibly unstable society. For the most part, much of our society has accepted, as normative, a variety of unhealthily relationship models that lie outside of what God desired for his creation. Additionally, our news is filled with stories of theft, corruption and embezzlement, along with a seemingly endless list of violent acts that we as humans seem so easily and capable of perpetrating upon one another.

Yet despite all of our poor choices, Jesus still loves us. (Romans 5:8) He knows that true love can only be true, if the object of his love responds willingly and voluntarily to Him and his offer of an eternal relationship. With that relationship, and obedience to God’s objective truths, come peace and purpose in this life. (Proverbs 3:1-2)

God will never force his plan for our eternal salvation upon us. It becomes our choice entirely as to how we will choose to respond to His love for us. Our behaviors are ultimately a product of our choices. Our choices a product of what we believe is true.

In this life we have the choice to either humble ourselves and willingly trust and obey God’s objective truths, or to trade these truths for our own contrived, and often self-serving concepts of truth with predictable results. (John 3:19)

How do I want to live and build my life? Do I want a life built like the Vasa was built, with many differing standards, or will I anchor my life securely in God, resting upon His set of objective principles as revealed in the Scriptures?

The Depth of Love

Recently, I saw a demonstration of the harsh environment of the ocean in a news report. Scientists were showing the effects of water pressure on various objects at depths of fifteen thousand feet. These various everyday objects were taken by a deep sea submarine to the great depths of the ocean. When they were returned to the surface, they did so, crushed to a fraction of their original size. All this owing to the great pressures found at such incredible depths.

This poignant picture caused me to consider the strength of love. Love faces great pressures each day, pressures from the effects of our lives, from the challenges we face, from our choices, and I suppose ultimately from our natural hearts. We naturally do not possess the shielding required to preserve ourselves under these conditions.

Thankfully we have a place we can draw upon to build up the strength, to love ourselves and others, in the face of the many great difficulties and challenges of this life.

I speak of course of the love of Christ.

According to the scriptures, God’s most amazing and eternal love, has been given to each of us who trust Him and have surrendered to Him, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5)

And this love that He has given us can never be taken from us. “…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:39)

The scriptures tell us that love has many qualities, including the fact that love seeks to trust, to hope, and to persevere.

Life is hard. And sometimes those closest to us are the ones that say or do things that can really challenge us. For the Believer though, we must seek to view those times through the lens of God, utilizing the Love that he has placed in our hearts. With this love we must seek to exhibit His patience to those we love, as He does each day for us. After all, none of us are very far from His Grace. For that we can be thankful.

To love someone deeply, is to not be easily angered when they do unloving things, to not dishonor them, to not keep any record of wrongs, and to remember, that in the end, true love never fails.

Let me conclude by sharing an excerpt from the Apostle Paul, a note about love that he recorded in a letter to the members of an early church, in the city of Corinth in about AD 55. His observations about Love are timeless.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Simplified Cosmological View: Does God Exist?

This is a profound question.

In fact, it’s a very foundational question.

If one truly does not believe that there is a God, then the Christian worldview is a wholly inadequate explanation for our reality. What one believes in this regard will have lasting and eternal consequences in their lives.

The scriptures tell us that God is the source for the cosmos we see all around us. (Genesis 1) That it was God who created everything in the cosmos. Can we rule God out as the origin of this creative power?

How do we reasonably determine if it is possible that God exists?

One view is what I would describe as a “simplified cosmological view.”

In the end, what is the best explanation that describes the existence of the cosmos that surrounds us?

There are only two logical possibilities to this question:

1.The cosmos had a specific beginning point in time. A time when at one moment there existed nothing, and in the next moment there existed something.

OR

2.The cosmos has always existed, having been around for eternity.

In investigative science, one must draw conclusions about reality and truth based upon both the measurable and circumstantial evidence. If the preponderance of evidence suggests a reality, then that becomes the reality we must hold to until sufficient contradictory evidence is presented to the contrary.

From a purely naturalistic perspective, meaning a view without any consideration for a supernatural being such as God, neither of the above explanations seems to offer us a reasonable conclusion about our cosmos.

Nonetheless, these are the only two options that exist; therefore we will have to work with them.

To aid us in our evaluation, we’ll use a tool from science. Scientists often formulate their questions in the structure of a hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a statement that takes the form:

  1. Null Hypothesis: (H0) What I am trying to disprove, there is no difference, status quo.
  1. Alternative Hypothesis: (HA) What I am trying to prove, there is a difference.

Together, HA and H0 cover all the possibilities.

Logically, it is easier to disprove something than it is to prove it.  Therefore, the claim to be tested appears as H0.  We can reject H0 or fail to reject it.   We can never accept it.

One of these hypotheses represents reality with respect to God:

  1. Null Hypothesis (H0): God does not exist

Or

  1. Alternative Hypothesis (HA): We have failed to prove that God does not exist, therefore there is a possibility that He exists and must be considered in our reality.

There are many points upon which we might apply this test, but for the sake of brevity, we will only consider the existence of our cosmos to make our case of whether or not God might exist.

Going back to our two logical possibilities for the existence of the cosmos,

1. The cosmos had a specific beginning point in time. A time when at one moment there existed nothing, and in the next moment there existed something.

OR

2. The cosmos has always existed, having been around for eternity.

Let’s take a look at item 2 first.

Basic physics tells us that due to the first and second laws of thermodynamics our cosmos, had it been in existence forever, would be a cold dead place at this very moment. Given the infinite size of the cosmos, it is not possible for us to be here now if the cosmos never had a beginning that it has always existed.

The first law, in laymen’s terms, says that all the energy we have is all we get. Energy may transfer, or change form, but “new” energy cannot be created from nothing.

The second law, also in very simplistic terms, states that every time energy gets transferred or transformed, some of it becomes less useful. In time, all of it becomes useless. In time, all of this less useful energy gets radiated out into the cosmos and dissipated over an infinite degree of space.

Another way to wrap your mind around the second law of thermodynamics is to consider the following.

Suppose we walked into a sealed gymnasium in the depth of a winter snow storm in the middle of the night with no lights turned on. The gym would be super cold; in fact it would be freezing, and very dark.

In the middle of this cavernous gym there was a table and a single white candle. You extract a small flashlight and a lighter and approach the table. You light the wick and turn off your light.

The wax of the candle is a form of stored energy, and it can be released by lighting the wick which transforms the stored energy into light and heat energy. The flame on the candle is hot enough to burn your finger if you were close enough to it. You might even feel some of the heat energy even as much as a few inches from the flame. But if you walk across the entire gym, it’s not likely you will feel any heat energy from the candle.

If you had a super sensitive thermometer however, the device would in fact pick up a slight increase of temperature of the air in the gym. Other than looking like a distant star on a dark night, the energy from this candle is pretty useless energy as far as you’re concerned; it doesn’t do anything to actually keep you warm.

Eventually the candle converts all of the wax to heat energy, and runs out of fuel. The flame flickers and then goes out. You’re immediately plunged into total darkness. In time, the heat energy released from the candle will equally distribute itself in the room. But a lot of good that will do you!  If you stayed in the gym, eventually you would freeze to death!

Imagine that the candle represents all the energy of all the stars in our cosmos, and the gym represents our cosmos. Given enough time, our stars, like the candle, would convert all of their energy into a less useful form, which would distribute itself across the cosmos. Given our cosmos is infinitely large, and the known amount of matter is fixed,  and can never increase (Law 1) then if our cosmos had been in existence forever, you would not be reading this now, and it would be really cold and dark.

So option 2, our Universe has been in existence forever is not an option.

Logically then, that leaves us with option 1, that our Universe had a beginning. But what about the first law? The first law pretty much seals up option 1, because if the Universe had a beginning, then that would imply that matter and energy had to be created from nothing to make the beginning possible, something physicists know cannot happen. Is that the end of the story? Neither option working?

Nope.

Fortunately there were a couple of really smart scientists that have proved with science that the Universe had to have a beginning.

Dr. Albert Einstein created a mathematical model that demonstrated an expanding Universe. Not liking that idea, he put in a “cosmological constant” to fix that problem. (He later regretted ever having done that.)

One of Einstein’s contemporaries, Dr. Edwin Hubble, (Namesake of the Hubble Space Telescope) also made some astounding astronomical observations that showed an expanding Universe. Scientists since, have universally acknowledged that our Universe is in fact expanding and emanating from a particular point. Most of us know this commonly as the “Big Bang Theory.”

Why is it significant to our story that the universe is expanding from a central point?

Think of it this way. Suppose you traveled to a lake that was absolutely smooth, there were no ripples on the surface of the water anywhere.

Now suppose that you were hovering in a helicopter with a video camera pointed down to the lake, and dropped a big rock in the middle of it. You begin to film the concentric rings of ripples expanding outwards from the point of impact in the middle of the lake.

Once you got home and watched the video, you could see the expanding ripples of water  moving out in all directions from the point of impact. At some point, you realized that you could watch the video in reverse, and in so doing you observed that the rings gradually moved towards the point of impact, until you saw the moment the rock hit the lake.

The expanding rings had a beginning, the beginning was when the rock hit the lake surface.

Likewise, the cosmos also has a beginning. If we could track all the galaxies, stars, and planets on video from the beginning of time, and then play it backwards, we would see the single point where everything emanated from.

Scientists have since named this point, calling it a singularity.

Metaphysically, all of the above create a very interesting dilemma for naturalists. The only way that our cosmos could have come into being, without any supernatural events, would be to violate the natural laws of physics.

We have then, just from the cosmological aspect of our universe, a solid source of data that points us to a supernatural start of our cosmos.

Most commonly, we have ascribed such supernatural powers to only one being, God.

Do we live a life that overcomes…or are we overcome by life?

.”…having the form of godliness but denying its power.” -2 Tim 3:5

Today we are under remarkable pressure to dilute God. To qualify Him so that what is left is a façade of godliness without power. It is no wonder that when we face hardships and temptations, we often grow frustrated and powerless to bring meaningful change to our lives.

Jesus shared that His coming from the Father was so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Yet for many there is a reluctance to fully embrace all that God is.

Perhaps we accept the life of Christ…but have not claimed the transformational power of Christ. Perhaps we have received Christ as our Savior, but have not given Him the full reign of our life.

If so, then we are denying God the foothold needed to bring His full power into our lives..

Without accepting fully the power of God, we are assured to face the same struggles time and again with victory remaining forever elusive.

In a tangible way, while we cannot see electrical power we know it exists. One only needs to touch a live wire to verify its existence. For obvious reasons of safety, we don’t touch live wires, instead we believe the experts and take if by faith that such power exists and can harm us.

Scriptures tell us that “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1)

Lasting transformation comes only through the power of God, and that can only be received through faith, and while we cannot directly “see” the power of God, we can see our lives changed in ways that we know would not have been possible on our own.

Take a moment now and pray. Ask Him for the faith to receive His power into your life, only then will you begin to live a life that overcomes.

 

Copyright 2013